|"Refugees gather near burnt tents at a camp in Choucha, Tunisia." (Anis Mili/Reuters)|
By Tom Kington
The Guardian, May 25, 2011
"More than 1,000 migrants who fled fighting in Libya have been left without shelter in the Tunisian desert after locals burned and looted a refugee camp near the border, witnesses have claimed. At least five people were wounded when Tunisian soldiers opened fire on migrants fleeing Tuesday's attack on the UN-managed Choucha camp near the main crossing with Libya at Ras Ajdir, said Alganesc Fessaha, an Eritrean doctor who treated the victims. The attack left around 1,500 residents without shelter. It reflected growing resentment among Tunisians against the migrants, mainly workers from Eritrea, Somalia and Ivory Coast. Tensions between the two groups came to a head after refugees blockaded the road to the border to protest against being held in the camp, four miles from the border. Locals then attacked the protesters with clubs and iron bars before Tunisian troops fired teargas and warning shots in an attempt to break up the fighting. But a mob of about 300 Tunisians then attacked the camp, burning down about half the tents, Fessaha told the Guardian. 'Eritreans fleeing from the camp as it burned were beaten by locals lined up and waiting with iron bars,' said Fessaha, who was also attacked as she entered the camp. Fessaha was treating the the gunshot wounds of five Sudanese men who said they had been shot by Tunisian soldiers. 'The soldiers shot at us as we fled the camp,' said Abu Bakr Osman Mohammed, 39, who spent three years working in Libya and two in jail for illegal immigration before escaping as the conflict started. 'It is a miracle no one was killed,' said Father Sandro De Pretis, an Italian priest based in Tripoli who is involved in the aid operation. 'They came in daylight, well organised, and the army did nothing to protect the camp dwellers and may have even provided an escort as the locals burned what they could not steal. Something has to be done now for these migrants stranded in the sand.'
De Pretis said the attack marked a change in the mood of Tunisians, who hitherto had offered hospitality to refugees streaming over the border, even as they struggled to rebuild their own economy after this year's popular uprising. After first hosting Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who have now been repatriated, Choucha is now home to 3,300 Africans -- including dozens saved from a leaking boat as they tried to make the perilous sea crossing to Italy earlier this month. 'At first the Tunisians brought food to the refugees but yesterday they were out of their minds,' said De Pretis. [...]"